Product designer Chris Connolly, and software engineers Thomas Dimson and Alex Karpenko.
Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIRED
Today at 10am PST, Instagram is lifting the veil on Hyperlapse, one of the company’s first apps outside of Instagram itself. Using clever algorithm processing, the app makes it easy to use your phone to create tracking shots and fast, time-lapse videos that look as if they’re shot by Scorsese or Michael Mann. What was once only possible with a Steadicam or a $15,000 tracking rig is now possible on your iPhone, for free. (Instagram hopes to develop an Android version soon, but that will require changes to the camera and gyroscope APIs on Android phones.) And that’s all thanks to some clever engineering and an elegantly pared-down interaction design. The product team shared their story with WIRED.
By day, Thomas Dimson quietly works on Instagram’s data, trying to understand how people connect and spread content using the service. Like a lot of people working at the company, he’s also a photo and movie geek—and one of his longest-held affections has been for Baraka, an art-house ode to humanity that features epic tracking shots of peoples all across the world. “It was my senior year, and my friend who was an architect said, ‘You have to see it, it will blow you away,’” says Dimson. He wasn’t entirely convinced. The movie, after all, was famous for lacking any narration or plot. But watching the film in his basement, Dimson was awestruck. “Ever since, it’s always been the back of my mind,” he says.
A sample shot from Baraka
By 2013, Dimson was at Instagram. That put him back in touch with Alex Karpenko, a friend from Stanford who had sold his start-up to Instagram in 2013. Karpenko and his firm, Luma, had created the first-ever image-stabilization technology for smartphone videos. That was obviously useful to Instagram, and the company quickly deployed it to improve video capture within the app. But Dimson realized that it had far greater creative potential. Karpenko’s technology could be used to shoot videos akin to all those shots in Baraka. “It would have hurt me not to work on this,” says Dimson.
Once you start using the app, you quickly see that replay speed itself becomes a novel, alluring tool: For pets and people, replaying at about 1x gives you the sense that you’re creating a tracking shot like that Copacabana scene in Goodfellas. The higher replay speeds work better for shooting the sky out your airplane window, the scenery scrolling past during a train ride, or anything else that’s moving slowly or at a distance. Where Instagram’s filters are all about changing color and light, Hyperlapse uses a simple speed slider as its main creative decision.
All of those choices must be built-in up front with traditional camera rigs. Usually, capturing even a brief tracking shot requires intricate choreography between where you’ll move with the camera and what your subjects will be doing when you film them. Time-lapse set-ups are even more intense, requiring a camera be set up on a track and programmed to move at a steady speed. Both of those art forms are hardly spontaneous, and spontaneity is supposed to be Instagram’s calling card.
Hyperlapse, by contrast, let’s you create a tracking shot in less than a minute. “This is an app that let’s you be in the moment in a different way,” says Krieger. “We did that by taking a pretty complicated image processing idea, and reducing it to a single slider. That’s super Instagram-y.”
INSTAGRAM, HYPERLAPSE, INSTAGRAM ENGINEERING, VIDEO STABILIZATION
Yesterday we released Hyperlapse from Instagram—a new app that lets you capture and share moving time lapse videos. Time lapse photography is a technique in which frames are played back at a much faster rate than that at which they’re captured. This allows you to experience a sunset in 15 seconds or see fog roll over hills like a stream of water flowing over rocks. Time lapses are mesmerizing to watch because they reveal patterns and motions in our daily lives that are otherwise invisible.
Hyperlapses are a special kind of time lapse where the camera is also moving. Capturing hyperlapses has traditionally been a laborious process that involves meticulous planning, a variety of camera mounts and professional video editing software. With Hyperlapse, our goal was to simplify this process. We landed on a single record button and a post-capture screen where you select the playback rate. To achieve fluid camera motion we incorporated a video stabilization algorithm called Cinema (which is already used in Video on Instagram) into Hyperlapse.
In this post, we’ll describe our stabilization algorithm and the engineering challenges that we encountered while trying to distill the complex process of moving time lapse photography into a simple and interactive user interface.
Video stabilization is instrumental in capturing beautiful fluid videos. In the movie industry, this is achieved by having the camera operator wear a harness that separates the motion of the camera from the motion of the operator’s body. Since we can’t expect Instagrammers to wear a body harness to capture the world’s moments, we instead developed Cinema, which uses the phone’s built-in gyroscope to measure and remove unwanted hand shake.
Go here for more in depth info and technical videos http://instagram-engineering.tumblr.com/post/95922900787/hyperlapse